Saturday, July 22, 2023

Barbie (2023)

You would think, being a guy that watched all 42 direct-to-video/streaming Barbie movies, that it would be easy to figure out what to say about the live action one, the one I did all that work for. Somehow, it's not.

Our hero is Barbie, or to be more specific, Stereotypical Barbie. She lives in Barbie Land with the rest of the Barbies, a bunch of Kens, one Midge, one Skipper, and one Allen. (Ken's friend (all of Ken's clothes fit him)) But one day, things start getting weird. Barbie has thoughts about death, she doesn't gracefully float from her dreamhouse to the car, and worst of all: Her feet turn flat. After consulting with Weird Barbie (the one that happens when you play with your Barbie too hard) she sets out on a quest to the real world, while Ken tags along.

In a way, this is what I expected from a live action Barbie movie, at least after seeing a few trailers. It's got a little bit of the "Barbie is outdated, Barbie has done more harm than good for women, Barbie is bad" stuff I was afraid of but, luckily for all of us, that's not the point. I don't know if I could call this a celebration of Barbie either. It's not so much about the character as it is about the doll. And it's less about the doll than it's about... being a woman.

Okay listen I could watch a million Barbie movies and it wouldn't qualify me to talk about this. It's simply out of my wheelhouse! I liked the feminist angle, but I can't really form any substantive critiques because I am not embodied in the subject matter. I can't be one of those guys that starts explaining feminism to anyone! I'm just a normal man. I'm just an innocent man.

Speaking of which, Ken was great. I relate to Ken, which was funny until it got sad. For me, specifically. He's a big part of the comedy, because he's a giant idiot the whole time. It's a good look for a Ken. All of the Kens are big idiots, and that's great. The preview of the song "Just Ken" made me excited that this could be a musical, but it's not. It's got a couple songs but the only one that's like musical theater is the Ken one. There's one by Billie Eilish that hits hard.

I really didn't need to watch all those movies for this one. I'm glad I did, but they didn't provide much in the way of context or easter eggs. If anything this is closest to Life in the Dreamhouse, what with the Barbie is Everything sort of stuff, but this is far more self-examining than that show was, since that was a funny cartoon for goofs. There's a lot going on in this film, it's surprisingly poignant given how goofy most of it is. One thing the film does is anticipate the reception from the more reactionary parts of the viewing public, and preemptively responds to those ideas. Like, the obvious surface-level critiques are practically a part of the movie. It was more instructive to someone like me, whereas it's more likely supposed to give voice to already-held sentiment for its audience, but the whole reason I watch this Barbie stuff is to get an idea of how the other half lives. (That's definitely the only reason.)

I could get into spoilers but I'll restrain myself. Suffice it to say: It's good. People who aren't me (and are women) will like it a lot more than I do. It's not made for me! In fact, this movie purposefully avoided one of those things I fixated on in the old Barbie movies. (Not Raquelle.) Oh, and there was no Raquelle. It wouldn't have made any sense for her to be there, but there's still a little disappointment. Maybe later they'll make a Raquelle live action movie and I will watch it 100 times.

If you're expecting nothing but a happy fun-time romp, you'll get more than you bargained for. I don't know if this would be the "palate cleanser" the Barbenheimer advocates are reaching for. If you want something with a bunch of funny jokes and some feminism that I'm not qualified to speak on, you'll enjoy this. There's some deeper themes in there, but maybe I can speak on those once it's been out on video and I can watch it a few times. I just have to accept the fact that this won't hit deep in my soul the way a Broly movie would. I still highly recommend it, even if it didn't personally resonate with me the way it would with others. It's got a lot to say about womanhood, society, and the overall human condition. In a way, this embodies the Barbie ethos: Just because it's unabashedly pink and feminine, doesn't mean you shouldn't take it seriously. It means a lot to a lot of people, and you can either accept that or choose to live in ignorance.


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